Microsoft Surface Pro 8: A superior Windows 11 tablet
PCWorld|November 2021
Microsoft's latest Surface ushers in Windows 11 with an outstanding new Surface tablet.
MARK HACHMAN

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 tablet arrives as Windows 11 (see page 25) goes out the door. Microsoft has already shipped one tablet this year, the Surface Pro 7+ (fave.co/3C0zXPZ), which rose to the top of our roundup of the best Windows tablets of 2021 (fave.co/3FWsIuO). Can the Surface Pro 8 improve upon it?

Yes. The Surface Pro 8 boldly strides forward with a larger, higher-resolution, faster screen, a revamped inking experience spearheaded by the optional Surface Slim Pen 2, and a pair of Thunderbolt ports that supplement the legacy Surface Connect charger. It’s a dramatic reworking of the iconic Surface Pro tablet line, and that’s enough to grab your attention.

SPECIFICATIONS

For now, there’s one important change in configuration between the Surface Pro 7+ for Business and the latest Surface Pro 8: The Surface Pro 8 lacks an inexpensive Core i3 option, and thus its base price is $100 higher, at $1,099. The good news is that all of the Surface Pro 8 options Microsoft is selling should offer enough computational power and memory for any buyer. Our review unit also lacked cellular capabilities, so we didn’t test those.

Microsoft continues to sell the Surface’s companion keyboard and the pen separately, though there’s an explicit keyboard and pen bundle that Microsoft will sell for an additional $279.99. The Surface Pro 8 has been designed with the new Surface Slim Pen 2 (fave.co/3jfy6zC) in mind, however, and Microsoft says you’ll experience reduced e-ink latency and lag if you use it.

Display: 13-inch PixelSense Flow (2880×1920, 267 PPI)

Processor: Consumer: Core i5-1135G7, Core i7-1185G7; Commercial: Core i3-1115G4, Core i5-1145G7, Core i7-1185G7

Graphics: UHD (Core i3), Iris Xe (Core i5, i7)

Memory: 8/16/32GB LPDDR4x RAM (16GB as tested)

Storage: 128GB/256GB removable SSD; 512GB/1TB SSD (256GB as tested)

Ports: 2 USB-C (USB 4.0/Thunderbolt 4), 1 Surface Connect port, Surface Type Cover Port, 3.5mm jack

Security: Camera (Windows Hello)

Camera: 5MP/1080p (user-facing), 10MP (rear-facing)

Battery: 50.2Wh (design), 51.3Wh (full charge)

Wireless: WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.1; optional LTE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66

Operating system: Consumer: Windows 11 Home; Business: Windows 10 Pro or Windows 11 Pro

Dimensions: 11.3x8.2x0.37 inches

Weight: 1.96 pounds (as specified)

Color: Platinum, Graphite

Price: Starting at $1,099.99, $1,599.99 as reviewed

Optional accessories: Surface Slim Pen 2 (fave.co/3jfy6zC): $129.99; Surface Slim Pen Charger: $34.99; Surface Pro Signature Keyboard with Slim Pen 2 Bundle: $279.99; Surface Pro Signature Keyboard (fave. co/2Z3QlBj): $179.99 (Alcantara Ice Blue, Poppy Red, Platinum, Black), Surface Pro Keyboard: $139.99

PRICES

Core i5/8GB RAM/128 GB SSD: $1,099.99 (Platinum)

Core i5/8/256: $1,199.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i5/8/512: $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i5/16/256: $1,399.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i7/16/256: $1,599.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i7/16/512: $1,899.99 (Platinum, Graphite)

Core i7/16/1TB: $2,199.99 (Platinum)

Core i7/32/1TB: $2,599.99 (Platinum)

Two years ago, the Surface Pro X (fave.co/3pkW2Wa) showcased the future of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet lineup. Today’s Surface Pro 8 has been redesigned in its image, with a pair of Thunderbolt ports and an integrated charging cubby for the Surface Slim Pen 2. That can be a little disconcerting for long-term Surface owners, as Microsoft has moved things around. The power button is now on the side of the tablet, for example.

Though the Surface Pro 8 is now slightly heavier and chunkier than its predecessors, you’ll need to compare them side by side to notice. Otherwise, the Surface Pro 8 looks the same as it emerges from the box. Hopefully you’ve already purchased the Surface Pro Signature Keyboard to take full advantage.

Like other Surface Pro devices dating back to the Surface Pro 3, the tablet reclines to nearly horizontal. The Surface Pro’s Signature magnetic keyboard, though, clasps it firmly. If that matters to you, buy a Surface Pro 8. Rival tablets don’t invest enough in the magnetic connection, and a tablet on your lap already risks flipping backward over your knees.

Microsoft ships the Surface Pro 8, as it ships most of its Surface devices, dialed down to minimal performance levels. Though you give up a bit in terms of performance, this also means that the Surface Pro 8 rarely engages its cooling fan, and it only does so very quietly when necessary. (You can adjust the performance within the Windows 11 Settings menu, specifically System > Power & battery.) Narrow grillwork runs along both sides of the tablet, providing cooling. Typically, Surface tablets get warm to hot along the upper rear panel, and the SP8 is no exception to that rule.

With the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft is introducing a slightly larger 13-inch (2,880x1,920) multitouch PixelSense Flow display that preserves the 3:2 screen ratio, versus the 12.3-inch (2,736×1,824) displays we’ve traditionally received as part of the Surface Pro lineup. Originally, Microsoft told us that the PixelSense Flow display would dynamically shift back and forth between the standard 60Hz refresh rate and a new 120Hz refresh rate, a feature known as Dynamic Refresh Rate. Higher refresh rates are easier on the eyes and would also improve inking, as the pen’s ink would “flow” more smoothly onto the screen.

Microsoft’s Dynamic Refresh Rate feature didn’t make it to the Surface Pro 8, unfortunately. Instead, Microsoft locked the refresh rate at 60Hz, though you can manually adjust it via the Settings menu (System > Display > Advanced Display) to the higher 120 Hz setting. Doing so would imply that your battery life would decrease, but we didn’t experience that. We’ll talk more about this during our performance tests, specifically the battery life section.

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